“I can guarantee the support of House Castilio,” assured Brutus.

“Good, a representative of their family has arrived seeking news on some missing members of their family,” said Eileen as she marked something down on the parchment in front of her, “If we can secure them to our cause that will forward our agenda significantly”

“Your agenda or Lady Gwenyth’s?” asked Timothy with a glance towards my seat at the council table. My chair was pulled back away from the table and my hand was absent mindedly stroking the head of the wolf I had summoned into the castle. It was a practice of sorts to see what control I had over the beasts.

“Who is this representative?” I asked dismissing Timothy’s concern’s. I was still gazing out the window of the council room towards the drifting clouds over the night sky while still absently petting the wolf at my side. Probably invoking an image of power unintentionally but I really didn’t care if I was or not.

Eileen glanced up, “A Remus Castilio my lady.”

“Is there anything noteworthy of the family?”

“They have a large holding up near the mountain pass,” interjected Brutus. I turned to look at him as he spoke, “Recently abandoned after the fall of the Dark Lord.”

“What happened?” I asked. If I remember correctly we were talking specifically about Brutus’s own family, and their holdings. If I could gage Brutus’s reaction to the conversation it would be interesting.

“The head of the family was a major supporter of the Dark Lord,” Brutus glanced down at the table, “needless to say the people didn’t take well to that.”

“And the surviving members of the family? Were they supporters of the Dark Lord?”

Brutus became apprehensively quiet. I could see Eileen was even shifting her eyes between us carefully.

“I could inquire,” said Brutus, “Though I doubt we could turn down anyone that is willing to support us no matter their family’s previous loyalties.”

“Very well perhaps we could arrange to reinstate their holdings to secure their loyalty.”

“Doubtful,” commented Eileen, “we are barely able to finance our own current estate. If the Castilio family wishes support in reestablishing their holdings we may not be able to support ourselves for very long.”

“Any viable suggests then?” I asked.

“Raise more taxes?” offered Timothy.

“For now we can just ensure that the holdings will be passed on to their rightful heir.”

“Or at least the heir that will give us the most support,” voiced Timothy.

Brutus and Eileen both glared at him while I smiled inwardly. Perhaps it has been too long since I had a moment to smile. The wolf next to me stood up to lay his head in my lap. I scratched him behind the ears and was rewarded with blissful panting companion.

“Might I advise we discuss our bargaining strategy latter,” voiced Eileen.

“Very well then,” I mused, “What is our next item of business?”

“Another report came in from the scouting expedition into the mountains. It seems they have met some opposition,” said Brutus.

“What sort of opposition?”

I turned my focus from the wolf to the council. Brutus pulled out a small letter.

“Armed men have been seen patrolling around the region. Our men had some entanglements with a few of those patrols and the last report indicates they have been forced back from scouting farther into the region.”

“No word on if they uncovered this temple?”

“Nothing from the report that says as much.”

I leaned back in my seat thinking.

There is no doubt Richten’s followers had retreated up into mountain beyond the pass. Somehow their numbers are growing, or perhaps they have aligned themselves with another faction that once served the Dark Lord. A cold chill gripped my stomach, as thought about the ritual to revive the Dark Lord falling into the hands of his more capable and ambitious followers of his followers instead of the disorganized rabble we have been dealing with. Possibly even someone who shared the Dark Lord’s curse and had more patience than Richten.

The thought took hold of my mind and I made my decision.

“Brutus prepare another expedition into the mountains,” I said as I stood approaching the table, “I plan to take charge this time.”

“As you wish my Lady.”

Eileen frowned, “Perhaps my Lady should reconsider.”

I meet her gaze, “If you have an objection say it.”

She met my challenge with a stern look, “We are entering a difficult moment of transition for the valley, the surrounding land, and its people into accepting your rule. You are needed here to help ease that transition, to enforce the remaining nobles into acknowledging you as their liege and instill support from among the populace.”

“I shouldn’t have to point out that the majority of the people are not inclined to supporting my rule.”

“The common peasants will follow the lead of the nobility.”

“Regardless my focus is to eliminate any hope of the Dark Lord’s return. If it so happens that I take his place as ruler so be it.”

“It may be necessary for you to secure your rule here in the valley in order for you to effectively accomplish your goals.”

I folded my arms, “then I consider myself fortunate that I have an able and capable council to ensure my transition to rulership is successful.”

Eileen narrowed her eyes, “Very well. What is your command, my Lady?”

“For the council to handle my affairs in my absence. Brutus once you have finished speaking with the representative from House Castilio, make preparations to send a group out to the mountain pass. You and I will lead the expedition,” I turned back to my chair and took a seat, “Eileen, I would like a definitive list of our supporters and those opposed to my rule from among the major families and nobles. I will also trust you to secure what alliance you can in my absence.”

I paused a moment, “You may be right, Eileen. We may need to secure the valley and perhaps expand my reign to the neighboring lands to ensure the Dark Lord never returns.”

“Very well, my Lady,” said Eileen as she jotted down further notes on the parchment in front of her.

“And me, my Lady?” asked Timothy.

“I'm considering how much of an asset or liability you would be in joining the expedition.”

“While I am certainly an asset in whatever situation, I see no use in me trekking through snow and over mountains. My service is best used here in overseeing the study of the arcane.”

“A questionable use of your time,” muttered Brutus.

A flame flickered to life in Timothy’s hand, “to the uneducated my studies would seem wasteful.”

Brutus stood drawing his sword. My wolf growled as I grabbed the back of Brutus’s shoulder and sat him back down. This close my gaze flickered over his neck and I reflected on the possibility of getting a drink to satisfy my thirst.

Dismissing the idle thought I growled, “Both of you should be more mindful how you behave in my court. I may not be the most diplomatically minded person but I will expect those who serve me directly to behave cooperatively.”

There was an uncomfortable shift as both Brutus and Timothy looked away from each other.

“Timothy I want you to assist Eileen.”

“My skills of diplomacy are lacking,” Timothy protested.

“Regardless, you will either join the expedition or assist as Eileen’s scriber.”

“I believe that is a waste of my use and potential as a mage-.”

My wolf growled as an ominous warning.

“Perhaps I should reorganize my council?”

“That will be unnecessary,” interrupted Eileen, “I will be willing to act as your regent in your absence.”

“Thank you, if there is no further business to discuss you are all dismissed.”

As the room cleared I sat back in my chair and contemplated the direction of my next plan of action. If we can root out the last of the loyal supporters of the Dark Lord, I can then turn my attention to securing my rule. The security of the realm is certainly a priority and to do that I needed to instate myself as the authority. As much as I don’t appreciate the double motives of those around me I can understand to a degree of what they wanted.

If I was guessing correctly Brutus either wanted to elevate his family back into a position of power or ensuring their safety. Eileen was certainly a mystery to me on her motives, and Timothy I could only assume is here because I represented a degree of protection for him while he continued his studies.

Placing my head between my hands I rubbed my temples trying to sooth my thoughts. I hated politics and here I was becoming more entangled by them with every passing day. Originally I left that life behind to go adventuring.

The wolf replaced his head on my lap, probably sensing my frustration.

“Its okay boy,” I said as I scratched him behind the ears. I was really looking forward to escaping out into the wild on this expedition. A chance to leave all this politicking to someone else, someone who I hoped was definitely more competent than I was.

I entered the northern courtyard that held the stables. Brutus was directing some of the men, loading up wagons and horses. I almost didn’t notice the man at his side until most of the riders and soldiers around me paused to salute with a clenched fist over their hearts that accompanied a slight bow.

If I didn’t suspect he was related I might not have made the connection between him and Brutus. As I approached Brutus and the man repeated the same salute and slight bow.

“My Lady,” the two greeted in an almost near unison.

“How are preparations?”

“We should be ready to depart shortly,” answered Brutus.

“My Lady, if I may have a word.”

I turned to look at the man who was standing patiently by. He was younger than Brutus by a fair bit and standing this close it was easier to see the family resemblance.

“You may,” I permitted.

“On behalf of House Castilio I thank you for protecting my brother, Brutus.”

“Your brother?” I glanced at Brutus and raised an eyebrow, “Brutus never mentioned his family. So I confess I wasn’t aware.”

“All the same we are grateful, and personally I would request a favor,” he said taking a knee in front of me, “If you would, release Brutus from his service for a season. Our mother grows ill and I feel that to see her eldest son would bring comfort before she left for the Goddess’s Embrace.”

I recoiled slightly at the invocation of the Goddess. As I recomposed myself I glanced towards Brutus to try and comprehend his reaction to the request. He looked troubled but it was hard to see what he was troubled about.

“If need be I would willingly serve in his stead to help lead and organize your men. Though I may not be as experienced as Brutus, I have worked under my father as his squire when he has led his men into battle.”

“What do have to say about this Brutus?”

Brutus grimly met my eye, “I willingly serve wherever you need me.”

“And what of your family?”

Remus glanced up expectantly at his brother while Brutus maintained eye contact, “It has been some time since I have last seen them.”

From his response to my questions, I couldn’t tell what Brutus wanted as an answer from me. Unintentionally I was being placed on the spot to make a decision. I tried to reflect on what Eileen would say on the matter.

“I would like to establish a good relationship with House Castilio,” I started, “If Brutus is willing to leave my service for a time to help build that connection then he is free to leave.”

Brutus nodded but didn’t say anything. His brother Remus stood and clasped arms with him with a sincere smile.

“I will send word home immediately,” he said before he turned to bow respectfully towards me, “I am truly indebted to you.”

“If your willing I would gladly accept your offer to accompany me on my expedition,” I said.

Brutus narrowed his eyes, “Perhaps that won’t be necessary my Lady.”

“I insist,” I declared while beckoning the servants to bring my horse, “Remus and I can discuss some of the particulars my alliance with your family.”

“Don’t worry Brutus,” said Remus, “I won’t disappoint our family’s honor.”

“It's not really a question of honor,” replied Brutus, “very well. If this is my Lady’s wish then I will see it done. Fortunately we pass close by the family estate.”

“That is fortunate,” agreed Remus after a moment he frowned, “where exactly is this expedition going?”

“I will share the details with you as we go,” said Brutus as took his brother by the arm and steered him away.

I watched the two disappear into the crowd of riders and swordsmen for a spell. A few more of the castle servant helped load my horse and strap down some provisions. When everything was set I mounted up and waited for the rest of the expedition. Looking over the crowd from horseback I could see we had decent size group. Not as large as force of men readying for war but large enough for a small skirmish. Brutus and his brother rejoined me at the head of the entourage.

“We are ready, my Lady.”

“Then let’s move out!”


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